Miami Spice is A Christmas Story in summer. Each year, as the heat and humidity grow, we allow our minds to wander into the sea of possibilities filled with many of the city’s best restaurants tempting each precious table with affordable, creative meals. But we’ve been through this before — we know there are highs and lows. And like that Red Ryder BB gun, some of our unbounded enthusiasm might end up hurting us.
At last count, there are 243 restaurants, up more than 34 percent from last year, offering lunch for $23 and/or dinner for $39 during this year's two-month promotion. In years past, New Times has offered guides to sort through it all. But now there's no rubric defining what’s good and what to skip. It seems almost every participating eatery has gotten the message that it’s unacceptable and lazy to offer skirt steak, chicken breast, and pasta for Miami Spice. Many restaurants have subbed in short rib, which is a fine move because it at least takes some forethought and time. Branzino is nearly as ubiquitous as salmon, which may or may not be a good thing.
Below, you’ll find more than a dozen options that, from the outset of Miami Spice, seem worth your attention. Many have proven themselves worthy in the past. And, as such, menus will change at some point during the forthcoming two months. Check back often for updates, and be sure to let us know if you find one that belongs below.
There are no shortage of options inside this sleek Roman import. Things begin humbly enough. You might opt for a branzino tartare or crisp sphere of eggplant served alongside a knob of smoked buffalo mozzarella. Then come the important choices. If it’s the deal you’re after, opt for the rack of lamb with sweet-and-sour ratatouille or the veal chop. Of course, that’s if you can persuade yourself to skip homemade pastas such as tagliatelle with porcini and tagliolini twirled up with lobster, thyme, and shallots.
It’s easy to forget about this Gables grande dame if you don’t live or work in the area. Spice is a reason to remember. The rest of the year, Christy's eight-ounce filet costs $42 by itself, three bucks more than the entirety of the spice menu. Bookend it with a caesar salad and a slice of key lime pie for a classic steakhouse experience.
Katsuya by Starck
Let's hope the menu found online is what you find when seated inside this chic spot tucked inside the SLS South Beach. If so, Katsuya joins the lofty ranks of restaurants participating in Spice to offer luxe ingredients at no up-charge. Sure, you can get the chicken robata, but who could pass on filet and foie gras brightened with a tomato shiso relish? In all likelihood, you won’t be dining alone, so be sure not to miss the sushi and sashimi combination after choosing chilled soba noodles, salmon tataki, Peruvian-style snapped ceviche, or Wagyu-packed gyoza.
As much as Miami Spice is about finding a great deal, it’s also about seeing what some of the city’s most promising (and costly) chefs are up to. So leave it to Azul’s chef de cuisine Benjamin Murray to make the menu soar. Start with a scallop crudo dressed in a bone-marrow vinaigrette and Parmesan. Or opt for beef carpaccio spiked with the flavors of the beloved Cuban frita. Then it’s a tossup among Worcestershire sauce-glazed short ribs, branzino with passionfruit ponzu and summer squashes, and corn risotto hit with Thai basil and egg yolk. To finish things off, there’s a chocolate pecan tart and yogurt cremeux, but it’s the bright-sounding lemon financier that seems most enticing.
The Bazaar by José Andrés
When Miami Spice was younger, it seemed as though more restaurants took the “have it” approach of the Bazaar. Here, you begin by picking one option from a lengthy list that includes bao con lechón, foie gras peanut butter and jelly, and José Andrés’ rendition of Ferran Adrià’s iconic liquefied olive. Then you continue your journey through the menu by selecting three more plates from an even larger, harder-to-pare-down list. The must-haves are the asparagus and romesco, the yuca "churros" with peanut butter and honey, and the chistorras. Or maybe the fish en papillote, or the shrimp, or the chicken thigh that’s slow-cooked in plenty of black garlic. Best advice: Dine with a large group to try everything.
Edge Steak & Bar
Aaron Brooks, who helms the Brickell Four Seasons’ crown jewel, always takes Miami Spice seriously. So expect the offerings to change. Don’t worry about the deal, though — the rib eyes offered on the regular menu start at $37, so you’re getting ample bang for your buck. Before hitting the red meat, open things up with crisp pig ear shreds tossed in watercress with green mango. Or opt for the salt-cured arctic char. Brooks tends to enjoy these cured items, so who knows what else might rotate through. Plenty of reason to visit twice, or thrice.